by Anne Ravanna

ORONO – The president and CEO of Cianbro Corp. on Tuesday unveiled a proposal for an east-west toll highway in Maine, his contribution to a series of discussions on how Maine can better align itself with Canada to pursue economic development.

A toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore is the only solution to the pressing need for a better way to cross the state, Peter G. Vigue said. The highway would significantly reduce travel time, costs and fuel emissions for the 1,000 heavy American and Canadian trucks that travel through Calais daily and are banned from the interstate because of their weight.

“The largest investors in this state in the last 10 years are the Canadians. Let’s accept it, embrace it, understand it. We’re not competitors,” Vigue said.

The notion of a taxpayer-funded east-west highway is not worth entertaining any longer as the state cannot afford to purchase the rights of way to cross private property, nor does it have the money to construct such a road, Vigue said. He has pitched the idea of a privately constructed and operated highway to a New York bank, which gave him “the thumbs up,” Vigue said.

Before an attentive audience of 250 members of the local business community, Vigue delivered with authority his ideas in a speech titled “Why Not Maine?” The breakfast event was organized by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the Action Committee of 50, another Bangor business association.

The morning consisted of Vigue’s talk, the unveiling of Access Atlantica — a renewed effort to form a business alliance between Bangor and Saint John, New Brunswick — and a panel discussion on truck weight limits on Maine’s interstate.

In his speech, Vigue announced that Cianbro secured at midnight Wednesday its first client for the modular building structure assembly facility it plans to construct in Brewer. The new business will take over the former Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill site and will employ at least 500 people, Vigue said.

“We’re still not allowed to communicate who our first customer is,” Vigue said.

Immediately after Vigue’s address, Miles Theeman, CEO of Affiliated Healthcare Systems of Bangor, formally introduced Access Atlantica with his Canadian co-chairwoman, Nancy Thorne. Theeman and Thorne are volunteers who have given a new name to the long-term effort to create an “economic trade corridor” between the sister cities of Bangor and Saint John.

“We want to revamp our tourism image and make it regional. We talk about one vacation, two nations, but we share so much else [with Saint John] in terms of our goals for economic development, energy, transportation, Maritimes issues,” Theeman said.

Access Atlantica is part of a larger movement called Atlantica, which is backed by 127 chambers of commerce and boards of trade in Maine and four other New England states, upstate New York, southeast Quebec and the four Canadian Atlantic provinces. Atlantica’s goal is to encourage trade and economic growth in all industries in the region.